Wednesday, December 29, 2010


My oldest friend PAUL RUBIN passed away on Christmas Eve morning.

He was my running buddy back in the days of early teenage hood when I was young and innocent and Paul was a whole lot more sophisticated about the ways of the world; how to get around New York City and find the cool stuff (like THE MEMORY SHOP movie memorabilia joint) and girls. And most importantly, puppets!!!

(Me, Rowlf, Jim Henson, and Paul on the set of A SUMMER PLACE on CBS circa back in the day)

As everybody knows, I'm a puppeteer and have been since I could stick my hand over the crib. Paul was once a puppeteer too. That's how we met.
To New York City people of my generation there were a few truly magical names. Names like Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales and especially Chuck McCann. These guys had local TV shows with puppets and cartoons and they were on everyday and we all watched them. Some of us were adventurous enough to leave our living rooms and head to the TV studios where these heroes did their shows. I did. And so did Paul.

(That's Paul working the Paul Ashley puppets during a break at Chuck's WPIX-TV11 show LET'S HAVE FUN)

One day, at Chuck McCann's LAUREL & HARDY FIX-IT SHOPPE SHOW, our paths crossed. I went to Channel 5 and saw Chuck, who said I had to sit in the viewers booth today. So I climbed the lonely stairs and there behind the glass window sat a handsome boy about my own age with nicely-combed hair, wearing a well-tailored blue suit, with a pretty girl friend on his arm. When I walked in he turned and said to me "what the hell were you doing down there?" Well, I liked Laurel and Hardy and since I was Chubby I assumed the role of Ollie and said "Well never you mind!" Then skinny Paul began to cry like Stanley. And right at that moment we became life-long friends. We put together a Laurel and Hardy act. . . . . . and eventually performed on The Joe Franklin MEMORY LANE TV Show!

We built puppets, did shows at schools, and met the greats.

We learned "Who's On First" and did it for anyone who would listen.
(with JOEY FAYE in the hallway of WOR-TV9 prior to a JOE FRANKLIN appearance)

We traveled around the city, started a company RUMAR ENTERPRISES. . .

(with Jack Burns from Burns & Schrieber)

. . . met celebrities and even put out a magazine called Celebrity Post!

For almost 4 years we were inseparable.
New friends came into our lives and we went our several ways. Sometimes losing touch for years as craziness kicked in and yet? We never left each others hearts.
We reconnected in a more or less permanent way these past 10 years, talking a couple of times a month, a week, sometimes a day. The last few months were rough when Paul got sick, and then when I received an email from his sister Amy that he was taken to the hospital, I knew I had to visit him. But not just me. Remember earlier when I mentioned the name of kid show host Sandy Becker? When Sandy passed away Olga and I inherited his puppets, and one of Paul's and my favorite was a feisty little German named GEEBA GEEBA. When I walked into his hospital room, he was not alert. Amy rubbed his chest and brought him to consciousness and told him I was there. He struggled to open his eyes and when I caught his attention, I told him I brought someone to see him, and pulled Geeba Geeba from my black bag, put him on my hand and had him say:
"Hello dere Paul! Remember me? I remember you ven you used to be black und vite."
And he smiled. And they talked. And through Geeba, Paul and I reminisced about the highlights of our life together. He held Geeba's little hand and hugged him. When it was time to pack Geeba away, Paul struggled with his hand and signaled us closer. Geeba and I leaned down and Paul smiled and whispered to us "Thanks for the memories."

Paul, I want to say thank YOU, for the memories. You will always be part of my story.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Christmas - - childhood.Dreams.Puppets.Sandy Becker's Christmas Carol.Chuck McCann's Christmas Specials.Jerry Mahoney dummies. Jingle Dingle Dolls. Family. Love.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Paul was - - in my opinion - - the GREATEST VENTRILOQUIST of the 20th Century!

The characters he created - - JERRY MAHONEY, KNUCKLEHEAD SMIFF, and his own PAUL WINCHELL persona, were vividly alive and magically manipulated.
This book is STILL the best written tome on the subject. When I was a kid I would take it out of the library, return it, wait until they restocked it on the shelf and then took it out again. As my birthday approached my dad & mom wanted to get me the book, but they couldn't find one. So he wrote to Paul at the Little Little Theater off Times Square (currently the Helen Hayes) where he did his HARTZ MOUNTAIN SHOW and a few days later the copy above arrived in the mail. Autographed! What a way to encourage a young boy with stars in his eyes (and dummies on his knees).
This picture is from his first TV series for kids "WINCHELL/MAHONEY TIME". He would begin the show coming down on a slide with Jerry by his side. I was 3 years old and remember thinking that the kid is make believe, but he's also alive! Something kicked into my consciousness because right then I said to myself "I want to make other kids feel the way he makes me feel right now."
Paul was also profoundly inventive - - adding moving arms and things to his dummies. He also invented an upside-down chin face he called OSWALD.
Now get this: he was working Jerry, performing his voice without moving his lips while lying upside down on an inverted camera/split screen shot in extreme close-up on national television.
This shot is from his KTTV-11 series. The little girl is his feisty daughter APRIL WINCHELL (today a very funny, biting, voice-over artist.)
How did Paul bring the dummies arms to life? With the help of two talented "PUPPET COORDINATORS" JAY LLOYD (l) & SKIP LUDWIG, pictured below in this ultra rare shot with Paul's wife and April's mother NINA RUSSELL.
Along the way, Paul invented the artificial heart and did the voice of GARGAMEL on the Smurfs and TIGGER in Disney's Winnie The Pooh. But the dummies would continue to make furtive appearances in his life.

The last time we saw Paul was at a party thrown for him by his friend and confidant, producer Burt Dubrow. As he was giving a speech, Burt (an avid puppet collector) reached around the corner with a Jerry Mahoney replica. Winch went "Ohhhhh" like he was seeing an old friend, took him from Burt and launched into an hysterical, impromtu act. Unbelieveable and unforgettable.

Right after this picture was taken of Olga and me giving Winch the hug he deserves, I put my hands on his shoulders and we looked each other in the eyes. I say "Paul, you're the reason." And he said "Craig, you're the result."

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The first puppet I ever remember seeing was JINGLE DINGLE on "SANDY BECKER'S FUNHOUSE."
I wrote about that encounter here:
Leon Jason (Jingle's creator) gave me the films of Jingle Dingle on the roof singing about the weather (which is nothing like humming the scenery.) The vocals were by folk singer OSCAR BRAND. These were used to transition from Sandy the on-camera host to the puppet stage.
Here is a SUNNY DAY!

Monday, December 13, 2010


In the very early 80's, at the same time we were performing on Nickelodeon's PINWHEEL, Olga & I were hired to teach puppet making on a (then) new home entertainment format called a VIDEO DISC. It was released as "FUN & GAMES" and was the first interactive product on the market. Along with us, BILL MURRAY taught Tongue Twisters and MEADOWLARK LEMON showed how to dribble a basketball. I just found the clip.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Online interview re: JUKE BOX BAND

This is from the "ISLE OF SODOR" website.
An Interview with Flexitoon Puppets and Marionettes creator
Craig Marin
Interview compiled and submitted by Orion Anderson with our thanks
For those unfamiliar with his relation to Thomas, the Juke-Box Band were a part of the Shining Time Station series in America - Thomas's launchpad in the States.

How did you become involved with Shining Time Station?
We were working with eccentric National Lampoon writer Sean Kelly on various projects, and he called us up and said he was over at WNET-THIRTEEN (Public Broadcasting Station) and that "the producers were working on a show that needed puppets, and they need the Flexitoon puppets but they just don't know it yet." So we packed up some of the puppets and marionettes from our Nickelodeon series PINWHEEL, and went over to meet the producers. This was on a Friday. They called Monday and said that "the other puppeteers said they could bring something different to the party, and we were the only ones who proved it." So Flexitoon was hired to build and perform the Juke Box Band on Shining Time Station.

What was a typical day like working on the set of Shining Time Station?
We shot the first 20 episodes in New York City (where we're stationed), and all the rest in Toronto. The Juke Box Band were usually the first segments shot for the series. I'd get the scripts earlier and "puppetize" them. I'd also draw storyboards and work closely with a co-director on integrating the scenes and musical numbers within the context of the rest of the show. We'd shoot all the two or three camera-stuff first to get it out of the way. Then we'd go to single-camera film-style and the fun would begin. We'd redress the puppets and marionettes, add custom props and sets to the juke box, or move to one of the other sets (the dressing room or Tito's vault, for instance.) Many of the props, hats and set-pieces were constructed before, during and after hours. The six of us puppeteers were always busy behind-the-scenes: Olga Felgemacher (Didi the Drummer) and Jonathan Freeman (Tito Swing) were making the costumes and hats. The late Peter Baird (Grace the Bass) restrung the marionettes. Alan Semok (Tex) constructed intricate mechanisms; Ken Miele (Grace's assistant) did woodwork; and I (Rex)designed/painted/ constructed/ supervised and co-directed. One time a business person came back into our magical enclave and declared "Oh, just like elves" to which Peter Baird - - looking up from his newly minted Finnigin Pin declared "More like trolls!"

Did you control the jukebox as well?
I'm not sure what you mean by CONTROL, but we were very "instrumental" in all things Juke Box. The six of us performed and voiced all the characters (Grace's voice was dubbed in later by Vaneese Thomas

In the special " One of the Family" , Mr. Conductor goes inside the jukebox; how did you get the puppets to interact with Mr. Conductor?

That required a lot of preplanning and careful storyboarding. After lining up the individual shots, we had the stage manager read Mister C's lines from off screen. We kept strict eye focus as to where he would eventually be integrated. And the results were quite believable. Our only regret was that we never had Ringo appear in the Juke Box to drum with Didi. A tap-dance on the tom-tom would've been one for the ages!

Was the idea that the Jukebox Puppet Band would be in Thomas and the Magic Railroad ever proposed to you?
Certainly, given the cross-over popularity of the characters. (Newsday said "the best American part of the show is a cast of crazy musical puppets known as The Flexitoons") But I guess the producers thought it's be "hipper" to have a girl pop group instead. A real faux pas on their part. Oh we had big plans for them. The preliminary discussion was to have the juke box knocked over and all the characters would scatter and get lost. They'd be out in the world! Alone. There would be a song that each of them sings, and by the end, they'd all hear the others song and reunite once again, singing joyful five-part harmony.

In closing, did you enjoy working on Shining Time Station?
Absolutely and without a doubt. The people, the producers, the finished product touched and continues to touch millions of families. On behalf of all the puppeteers, FLEXITOON is proud to be part of a such great series.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Some wags say that when someone says "HAPPY HOLIDAY!" you should snap "What Holiday?" I say, if anyone wants to wish me a Happy ANYTHING, I'll take it!

Santa Claus & Me in San Rafael, CA. circa '72.
He hasn't aged a day. . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010


When we're working on a show or production, everything I do informs that project. In between times I draw and draw. I usually turn off my conscious mind and let my pen explore the boundaries of what I think I see into what I really see. Imagination in line form - - without erasing. The following were all drawn during the first three weeks of November 2010. (click on pictures to enlarge)

If these were from my subconscious, I also try to draw things I see in my head.

. . .or copy from a picture in a newspaper or magazine. . .

. . .or try to draw some one from memory (like Arthur Godfrey.)

Or I try to draw real to life - - with no mistakes or going over it again.

I love drawing. If I wasn't a puppeteer (which is drawing in three dimensions) I would have been an animator.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


A lot of people ask us what it looks like behind-the-scenes doing puppets on TV. I recently unearthed the Official Showtime-produced documentary about our series KIDS-TV featuring lots of backstage scenes. We shot in a studio in Manhattan called MOTHERS that was actually haunted by an Hungarian ghost named Henry. But that's another story. . .

The Flexitoon Puppets were brought to life by Craig Marin, Olga Felgemacher, Jonathan Freeman and Alan Semok with Ken Miele and Sal Denaro.

Monday, November 1, 2010


When I was a kid recovering from a foot operation, my dad bought me the Bible Of Puppetry: BIL BAIRD'S ART OF THE PUPPET. It was packed with great shots, fabulous information, and cool behind-the-scenes stuff. One of the drawings I loved the most was a backstage look at the Josserand Guignol Theater in 19th Century Lyons. The picture - - dated 1871 - - shows the Josserand family (holding puppets) greeting friends.

I'd always imagine that's what it would be like backstage when friends and family would come backstage to visit my shows (one day one day!) And - - it really does feel like that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



Grouchy & Me



Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Our film short LOOPY SLOOP was just selected to be in the ORLANDO FILM FESTIVAL. It opens in November. We are very pleased!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Before the show begins. . . Every age engaged.
A perfect day.

all photos by Mike Campbell